James Franco teaches first film workshop

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    James Franco (right) leads the class in organizing scene assignments for the screenplay “Metamorphosis: Junior Year.” Each group of five will film a specific scene that will be joined to produce a unified screenplay. The finished project will be submitted to Conquest Film Festival. Photo by Dhara Yu.

    It’s not every day that you get to see a famous actor and filmmaker, let alone be taught by one. At Palo Alto High School, however, 40 students were given the opportunity to work with alumnus James Franco to become acquainted with his knowledge of film. The first of eight James Franco-led film workshops took place from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. today in the Media Arts Center.

    After considering approximately 500 applicants, the leaders of the workshop selected students from Palo Alto High School, Gunn High School, Menlo School and Los Altos High School on Sept. 12, a day prior to the first workshop.

    Students were first introduced to their assignment for the year: to film certain scenes in groups from the screenplay “Metamorphosis: Junior Year” by Amber Cony, based on the novel and stage play by James Franco’s mother, Betsy Franco. At the end of the year, the groups will unify each of their respective scenes into one film, to eventually be submitted to the Cinequest Film Festival in San Jose.

    The screenplay follows the life of a teenager, Ovid, and his everyday interactions with his friends, whether it be the poet, filmmaker or cyber-couple. Carrying his own painful secret, Ovid transcribes his confessions into his notebook, while maintaining a strong passion for art and modern-day Roman mythology references.

    After introductions, participants were assigned mock roles for a live reading of the script, which soon generated discussion of what students wanted to change, add or manipulate to the screenplay.

    “We got to listen to all the different voices,” Menlo sophomore Ari Troper said.

    Students were then split into permanent eight groups of five, with each group in charge of filming particular characters and scenes. Among each of the five participants, students assigned themselves a specific job of either director, producer, cinematographer, writer or editor.

    James Franco ended the workshop with a live commentary of “The Myth of an American Teenager,” a coming-of-age movie with a similar theme to “Metamorphosis: Junior Year.”

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    Esther Wojcicki (right) greets James Franco (left) in front of the Media Arts Center as students arrive in the morning. Wojcicki is assisting Franco with the teaching and planning aspects of the workshops. Photo by Dhara Yu.

    “He made comments about the movie, which was really helpful,” Troper said. “It really showed how much he knows about this stuff.”

    Sophomore Arjan Mobin shared Troper’s sentiments, expressing that it was an experience that helped to showcase the required work for each session.

    “It was good,” Mobin said. “We kind of got a feel for what we’re doing for the rest of the year.”

    According to Betsy Franco, today’s workshopped served for more informational purposes, while future workshops will introduce the skill sets required to direct, film and produce.

    Both Tom Franco, James Franco’s younger brother, and Iris Torres will attend each workshop and help produce the film, while Paly journalism teacher Esther Wojcicki will assist James Franco with teaching and planning each of the workshops.

    Paly junior Jackson Kienitz applied to the workshop in hopes of furthering his film interest and learning from experience.

    “When I grow up, I want to become a storyteller through some medium, and film is one of my favorite mediums of doing so,” Kienitz said. “This will be a great opportunity for growing, partly through making connections, as well as simply practicing the art form.”

    Other students hope to apply the skills they learn directly to their future career interest.

    “I’ve always had a passion for film, and that’s exactly what I want to do for the rest of my life,” Gunn junior Juan Santos said. “I think just having this opportunity to work with an accomplished director, actor and writer is a huge thing and I took the opportunity the second I heard about it.”

    Other participants had little to no film experience, but instead applied in hopes of exploring new possibilities.

    “I’m not really into film, or I haven’t been, but I thought it would be a really interesting opportunity to be a part of a production like this,” Mobin said.

    Paly junior Alec Cohen-Schisler feels that the program itself is both “unreal” and “revolutionary,” and he looks forward to the year.

    According to Betsy Franco, James Franco is thrilled to be able to teach at his old high school and looks forward to the final product.

    “He really loves his students,” Betsy Franco said. “He loves to be a student. Learning is what he is all about. I think this is his way of giving back.”

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